VNN’s Director of Sales and Advertising Operations Erin Blohm talks to Romy Glazer about the ways our company is connecting brands, realtors, restaurants, insurance agents and more to local fans through opportunities on their official high school athletics website. Learn about the process, the stories, and metrics behind the VNN advertising and sponsorship platform.
Romy Glazer: I’m just excited to talk to you about some advertising. You know, at VNN we’ve been doing it for, how many years, it’s been since the start of the company?
Erin Blohm: Since the start but what, maybe like six years that we’ve actually had like a dedicated department for advertising, five or six years.
RG: Right yeah. So you’ve been with the company nearly since the beginning, and so how did our advertising side of the business even start?
EB: Yeah so it’s like you said right, like we had the school side of the business and ads were always part of it, they were never not part of it. There was always local sponsors, but there wasn’t really anyone focused on them. Like there was the schools, so we get a few years in and we’re like, okay, this is great, we’ve got great partners that are local, but it feels like we should be giving them more attention, which is a good thing. So then it was like, okay, let’s see if we should just build something out, right. Like we should make a department that’s dedicated to servicing and supporting advertisers like we do our schools. And it sort of evolved from there.
RG: Right right, because VNN at the beginning, VNN was just going to be a software company that was going to allow schools to get information online about their athletes and their programs, so schedules and scores and all that, but then there was like this, I don’t know if it was an aha moment or what it was, but it was like hey, maybe local businesses want to be here, and so at that time we sold a little bit. But it was mostly focused on the schools, and so then you took the reins and kind of set the whole team up right. Maybe you could tell us a little bit about the process.
EB: Sure. So that was like 2015 or so, so I guess that was like six years ago, and there wasn’t really anything. But you know, we’ve done it on the school side. So we knew how to, okay, we know kind of what we need to do to support these people. Like we know the importance of community involvement and tying a business to a school, and we know these things right. So we had some starting points.
So yeah, it was kind of like me figuring out, okay, what do, what are the most things to advertisers, and what our value ads, and how do we capitalize on those while they’re partnering with the school, and how do we, also how do we continue the relationship on a school. So typically when a sponsor signs up, they’re on for a year, right. And then they have the choice to continue or not continue. And usually if they’re feeling good and they see the value in the partnership and they want to support the school, they want that brand connection with their business, and with the school, they’ll keep going because it feels good and they’re getting great visibility, and they’re known in the community as an official partner of the school.
It’s great, so we sort of built on that. And you know, built the team up from there and it sort of evolved.
RG: Yeah and you have, it’s like four people right, on your team that manage ads?
EB: Yeah we’ve got someone that’s sort of dedicated to local advertisers right. So a local state farm insurance agent and a realtor, and a restaurant and an HVAC place right, and all these businesses that are supporting the school locally. And then we’ve got someone that handles more of our regional side of advertising, which has really evolved in the last, what few years. And that’s, you know businesses that are partnered with 15, 20, 25, 30, 90 schools in some cases, and so obviously they’re bigger accounts and you want to, you know there’s just more to manage. And more that goes into that.
So yeah. those guys are like account managers and they handle that side of the things, and then you know design. We do all of our ad design in-house, so they work with the part with sponsors directly to do their ad creatives.
RG: Yeah and how, what does the process usually look like? So we’ve got let’s say someone says hey, I’m interested in advertising with my local school, and then they say okay great, let’s do this for a year or longer. What does the process from there look like?
EB: Yeah so we have a sales team right, and they’re going and connecting the brands with the schools and get them sort of, through the pipeline of, are you interested, here’s the value it adds, okay great you’re a good fit, we’re both excited to do this, let’s go. So then we take over, adopt, and sort of onboard them from there. So that’s when we sort of talk about what got a sponsor really excited about the campaign right. Like what got you so excited about this partnership where you’re like yes, I want to do this, let me partner with the school, and that could be one of a few reasons, right.
Generally, it’s a sponsor who already does some community involvement to some capacity right, like they might be sponsoring a club soccer team, or they’re involved with their local chamber of commerce, or they are involved with the booster club in some capacity right. But they do some type of community involvement, and that’s important to them. So we see a lot of that. Some people really love that they can be like, the only insurance agent on the site, or the only realtor on the site, and there is a lot of value to that, because positioning yourself as the only insurance agent out of all the insurance agents in town, right in front of this audience whose parents and fans and athletes and people that matter, that’s really appealing. So that’s good too.
So you know, people, we sort of go through that on an on-boarding call and talk about the value ads, and how to sort of tail the campaign so that we’re capitalizing on those. And it’s a good experience for both the advertiser and for the school, and then from there we keep in touch throughout the year. We talk about engagement with the site, so on top of it being a really cool thing that you’re supporting, the school and your brands, there’s also how many people are actually seeing your ad and seeing your connection with the school, and so put some metrics there which is important too.
RG: Yeah for sure, and so what kind of metrics are people usually asking for, or you’re sending over, and which ones are kind of the hot buttons, Is there like a one-size-fits-all sort of thing that you’re kind of seeing a lot from, you know, working with all these local businesses and regional ones?
HC: Yeah, so for local, typically we look at page views for site and unique users, and that paints a really nice picture of engagement and how many people are seeing your brand and how many members of the community you’re actually reaching. There’s a stat that we use, and it’s probably more than this I don’t know, it says 91% of parents say they’ll switch to a brand that supports their cause, and of course. That makes sense. If you support something and are passionate about it and there’s a business that supports that too, of course you’re going to be more likely to support that business. So we look at page views and unique users to sort of, measure that, and that paints a really good picture there.
For regional advertising, since it’s been a little bit more robust, and you might be on 25 or 30 schools, or maybe you have another advertising product like retargeting what we offer, we’ll look at impressions and sometimes clicks, and that gives a good story of okay, how many times is your ad actually being seen, and by how many people, and if it’s relevant, how many times are they making it over to your website or your landing page, or wherever we’re redirecting them to .
RG: Got it, so that kind of makes sense, it’s like on the local level a lot of times the local realtor, you want to see their face, you want to see their name, because they’re almost looking for visibility just in general they want to be where the community is. Because someone might walk into their office, whereas someone that’s a little bigger might be more like hey I need clicks to my website.
HC: Yeah exactly.
RG: Cool. and you end up doing a lot of both then? Are there breaks or in the industries or anything? And you know who likes what?
HC: Yeah really good question, so yes we, and we sort of, regional products that are tailored more to certain types of businesses. So just generally, you can have a local sponsorship. Like you might have an ad on a school website and that’s a local sponsorship and you’re getting great visibility that way, but then maybe you ramp it up a little bit on a level, and then there’s regional and maybe you have that same, you know that same title as, which is at the top of the site, but it’s on 20 sites.
We see that a lot with heating and cooling places, some insurance places, universities, healthcare, realtors right away, they like to start to dabble in multiple schools. And then we’ve got more robust regional products which are really fun, and that gets into custom content, different ways to engage with the site and with the school and with the athletes, and so we’ve got like athlete of the month where a partner, a business can sponsor that, And it’s cool and it gets their name on the site, and it feels good and it gets the community involved and voting for their athletes at their school.
And it’s great. It’s an extra layer of getting involved in connecting communities, and then you’ve got college prep or sportsmen which is sort of custom content landing pages where healthcare or education industries can sort of have a branded place on the site that talks really directly to parents or to athletes depending on who they’re talking about, but generally parents, and it’s a great way for them to have a specific section on the site that’s branded to them. And it’s again, sort of like a level up from just a sponsorship with the site, or a partnership with the site.
RG: Oh cool that’s sweet, And I have seen, I mean so you know we do like a weekly newsletter where we count down kind of top stories that we see you know, show up for schools on their platform. I have also seen some sponsors who do say like, athlete of the month, handing off a certificate to the athlete that won, with an article that’s kind of cool. Is that something you see happening often or anything else?
HC: Yeah it’s a great way to interact, actually interact person to person, not just on a website. Like we have a sponsor in Indiana, Indiana Members Credit Union, they’re on a whole bunch of sites in Indiana, and every month Chris Brelage, who’s the local rep there, who, we love Chris, goes and delivers the certificates with Jen and Thorpe who are contacts at Indiana Members Credit Union, and they actually go and present the winner’s certificate to the winning athlete of the month that they sponsor the program with. And the ADs love it. The coaches, the athletes, love it. It’s a great way for them to stay connected with the school.
It’s also a great way to build a relationship with the school, right, like with what products that you’re offering from just, from a business standpoint, like kids might need checking accounts you know, going into college. Or families need financial assistance or support in some capacity. So it’s just a nice way to build some personal rapport in addition to, hey we’re sponsoring your website and we’re an official partner, and we love you guys.
But yeah, it’s again, just that personal touch that’s really cool.
RG: Yeah that’s great. And so you know when it comes to that, I love what you said about making a personal connection because I’m guessing that, you know, the credit union is working with the school on other things too. And so you’ve got kind of this online trackable campaign that can kind of give you actually some metrics as to how well it’s doing. You get the connection, and then you know, even if you want to be in the stadium, there’s a connection there too right.
HC: Yeah exactly, because you’ve got a relationship built that maybe you didn’t have before, or if you did have the relationship before it’s sort of deepened or taken to another level. I think that’s, I mean I that’s what VNN prides itself on right, is connecting communities. So I think when you start to get into that side of the advertising and like building out those relationships, and sort of being a pivotal piece of that, it’s great, it’s so fun to see, that’s the best part.
RG: That’s cool, and so I mean I love the credit union example, that’s super fun. Are there any other, I mean in your history of doing this, for you six years, it’s crazy that it’s been six years, are there any other examples of sponsors that kind of pop out as like, man, this is really unique or this relationship work, this is like the ideal of how it should work. I’d love to year it.
HC: There’s a lot of these, I could go on for a long time, but there’s one that comes to mind specifically, and it sort of speaks to, I mean we’re kind of startup-y right, and we can respond. That’s one of the beautiful things about that, is we can respond to things and create products almost where we see a need.
So we had a healthcare partner, sports medicine partner, that was a regional partner on a whole bunch of sites just sort of a standard ad right, and they’re like hey it’d be really cool, we’ve got all these relationships with the schools. But you know we would love to have a place on the website where we can put our stuff that, you know, forms and make an appointment or concussion information, all these things and resources that they’re pushing out to the school.
Anyways. And they’ve got trainers in the school, but since everyone’s coming to this one spot, this athletic website to get all of this information, schedules, news, updates, etc. Why not put that information directly on the website, so that’s how we developed our sports medicine section, is through an existing relationship with the sponsor. And it was North Side Hospital in Georgia, and you know it’s become a really cool product for us that hospitals really love because they can, again, like they’ve got trainers in the school, but it’s a way for them to have sort of a place on the website where they can host all of that information, and maybe push some articles about content that they might have on their website that they wouldn’t have done otherwise through the existing relationship with trainers or with the school.
RG: That’s super cool. Are there, so when you think about the history that we’ve had too, like that’s really unique, really cool, is very, I don’t know when you say, like they’re usually people sign on for years, there’s been some sponsors that have been with us almost since the beginning right. Is there someone who’s been around for a few years that maybe we want to shout out?
HC: Yeah. Well I would be, I feel like I’m going to be remiss here to miss some people, but one of them is Henry Community Health in Indiana, Indianapolis area. They’ve been with us for maybe six years, so a long time. But we have some local sponsors that have been with us for eight years, and they just love supporting the school. So I know in Indiana, you know again, Chris Brelage, shout out to him. In Minnesota we have a number of advertisers who have renewed five, six years running. So there are multiple cases, like multiple advertisers and states where we’ve had schools for that long that have been on site since sort of their inception. Yeah and it’s so fun to see that, and it’s actually wild right. When you’re looking through an account history and you’re like, I feel like this, like I feel like I know a lot about this account, we’ve got a long history together and you look at it’s six years. Yeah no wonder, seven years or eight years, no wonder I feel like I know this person so well you know.
So yeah, I mean we have a lot of those, but Henry Community Health has been a, is a big regional partner that we’ve had for a long time. There’s a whole bunch of local sponsors, lots of insurance agents. Insurance agents just love to support their school, and do it for a really long time. And realtors, same thing.
RG: Yeah that’s cool, awesome amazing. So if there’s, I don’t know, anyone who’s listening to us talk and is like hey, I probably want to get involved, or any of our sponsors who maybe want to reach out, like what do they do?
HC: Yeah great question. So you can always email us at ads@VNNSports.net, and that’s a great way to just make sure it gets to us, and then we’ll get it to the right person. Because you probably have a local rep and that’s great, they’ll get you hooked up, they’ll tell you all of the things, like here’s your options, here’s the best fit for you, also just learn more about you and like what is important to you and how have you been involved with the community, and does this make sense. So ads@VNNSports.net, email there, and we’ll get it to the right person. That’s probably the best way, you can also go to the athletic website, like your local athletic website, and I think there’s a link there too that’s like advertise with us, and that brings you right I think to that same email address, so yeah.
RG: Amazing that’s great, this is so fun.
HC: Thanks yeah thank you.